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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2010 Jan;34(1):81-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2009.01069.x. Epub 2009 Oct 23.

Alcohol, cocaine, and brain stimulation-reward in C57Bl6/J and DBA2/J mice.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.



Pleasure and reward are critical features of alcohol drinking that are difficult to measure in animal studies. Intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) is a behavioral method for studying the effects of drugs directly on the neural circuitry that underlies brain reward. These experiments had 2 objectives: first, to establish the effects of alcohol on ICSS responding in the C57Bl6/J (C57) and DBA2/J (DBA) mouse strains; and second, to compare these effects to those of the psychostimulant cocaine.


Male C57 and DBA mice were implanted with unipolar stimulating electrodes in the lateral hypothalamus and conditioned to spin a wheel for reinforcement by the delivery of rewarding electrical stimulation (i.e., brain stimulation-reward or BSR). Using the curve-shift method, the BSR threshold (theta(0)) was determined immediately before and after oral gavage with alcohol (0.3, 0.6, 1.0, 1.7 g/kg) or water. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was measured to determine the influence of alcohol metabolism on BSR threshold. Separately, mice were administered cocaine (1.0, 3.0, 10.0, 30.0 mg/kg) or saline intraperitoneally.


In C57 mice, the 0.6 g/kg dose of alcohol lowered BSR thresholds by about 20%, during the rising (up to 40 mg/dl), but not falling, phase of BAC. When given to the DBA mice, alcohol lowered BSR thresholds over the entire dose range; the largest reduction was by about 50%. Cocaine lowered BSR thresholds in both strains. However, cocaine was more potent in DBA mice than in C57 mice as revealed by a leftward shift in the cocaine dose-response curve. For both alcohol and cocaine, effects on BSR threshold were dissociable from effects on operant response rates.


In C57 and DBA mice, reductions in BSR threshold reflect the ability of alcohol to potentiate the neural mechanisms of brain reward. The DBA mice are more sensitive to the reward-potentiating effects of both alcohol and cocaine, suggesting that there are mouse strain differences in the neural mechanisms of brain reward that can be measured with the ICSS technique.

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